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 Post subject: The Soviet silence on the fall of the Berlin Wall Source
Post Number:#1  PostPosted: 09 Nov 2014 15:03 
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The Soviet silence on the fall of the Berlin Wall

When the Berlin Wall came down and citizens of East Berlin began swarming into the west on Nov. 9, 1989, Soviet newspapers maintained a steadfast silence, and continued to avoid the issue for the next few days. However, careful readers would have understood from the careful wording of several reports that dramatic changes were taking place in East Germany.

On Nov. 9, 1989, the world press reported that the wall that separated Berlin into western and eastern parts had been demolished. However, Soviet papers failed to report the news. At the time, Soviet people could learn about the fall of the Berlin Wall only from rumors or subtle hints that managed to ‘leak’ into the national press.

A number of national papers did not reach the newsstands that day. The missing titles included Moskovsky Komsomolets, Sovetskaya Rossiya, Komsomolskaya Pravda, and Trud. Only two main national papers – Pravda and Izvestia – came out on the day the Berlin Wall came down.

However, they too were conspicuous in their failure to mention the fall of the Berlin Wall, though they did report on the domestic political situation in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), or East Germany, as it was widely known in the West.

Reading between the lines “Changes in the GDR” was the headline of a piece by Pravda’s Berlin correspondent Mai Podklyuchnikov in the Nov. 9 issue of the paper that reported that the East German government had resigned. Podklyuchnikov quoted a statement issued by the GDR Council of Ministers: “We appeal to all our citizens who are considering leaving the republic to think again.”

A perceptive reader could conclude from that statement that GDR citizens had got an opportunity to leave the country, which meant that the borders were open, and by extension that the Berlin Wall was no more.

A hint about the actual state of affairs could be found in the Nov. 11 issue of Pravda. An article headlined “Visit interrupted” reported that Helmut Kohl, the chancellor of West Germany, or the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany), had interrupted his visit to Poland and returned to Bonn for 24 hours “due to the dramatic situation developing on the border between the two Germanys.”

West German interior minister Wolfgang Schäuble said that “the FRG intended to continue receiving all Germans wishing to move to the FRG” but asked GDR citizens “to give serious consideration to their decision to leave the country because they would then have to spend a long time in constrained living conditions.”

Between Nov. 10 and Nov. 20, Pravda continued to cover political events in the GDR and FRG, but none of the articles mentioned the wall. At the same time, a dispatch by the above-mentioned Podklyuchnikov in the Nov. 12 issue of the paper reported that East Germans were moving to the west en masse and handing in their Socialist Unity Party of Germany membership cards.

Finally, on Nov. 14, the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper joined in the coverage with a news-in-brief piece reporting that GDR border guard troops had been issued an order that “they should do everything necessary to assist the orderly and smooth implementation of the new rules regulating movement across the border between the GDR and the FRG and West Berlin”.

In the meantime, November issues of Komsomolskaya Pravda, Trud, Sovetskaya Rossiya, and Moskovskiye Novosti had carried no reports about this. On Nov. 10, which was marked in the USSR as the professional holiday of the police force, the papers were full of glowing reports about Soviet police officers but did not say a word about the Berlin Wall.

Pravda, but not all of it

What reports did TV and radio carry on the day? In a recent interview with France 2’s Laurent Boussié, ITAR-TASS correspondent Alexei Golyayev, who used to head the news agency’s European section, said: “On Nov. 9, Soviet radio and television carried only one brief report on it, consisting of just three lines.”

One could venture a guess that the ban on reporting the events in Berlin came directly from the country’s leadership. For comment, we approached the Pravda newspaper, which still exists, though it ceased being the country’s main daily a long time ago.

According to Pravda staffer, Nikolai Kozhanov, practically none of the journalists working for the paper in 1989 are on staff today. However, Kozhanov doubts that there was a “prohibitive” directive, let alone in writing.

“Pravda journalists have always had a strong political sense. And, of course, when the news came of the fall of the Berlin Wall, they were in no hurry to print it. Those developments in effect signified the collapse of the socialist camp and reporting them would have meant recognizing the fact of the collapse. I think our journalists were hoping that things would sort themselves out somehow,” says Kozhanov.

According to him, Pravda, the main newspaper of the USSR Communist Party, was very careful about covering events that could do damage to the reputation of the ruling regime. “For example, after Stalin’s death in 1953, there were large-scale workers’ strikes in the GDR.

Things went so far that troops had to be brought in to break the protest up. Yet all that Pravda reported at the time was that there were minor protests by workers,” says Kozhanov. Nobody wanted to let Soviet people know that German workers had rebelled as it could have provoked similar unrest in the USSR.

“One should not think that Pravda’s correspondent in Berlin did not know what was going on, he continues. “In cases like these, a correspondent had to write a ‘closed letter’ to be sent not just to the paper but straight to the party’s central committee. That letter contained a detailed account of the real state of affairs. It was then that party functionaries decided how the Pravda newspaper would cover the story.”

Source: Russia Beyond the Headlines - The fall of the Berlin wall

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). The RWF will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in this article


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 Post subject: Re: The Soviet silence on the fall of the Berlin Wall Source
Post Number:#2  PostPosted: 09 Nov 2014 18:10 
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The Berlin Wall: Unfulfilled hopes

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany is not only the elimination of border
structures belonging to two German countries. This event had and still has an enormous impact
on the geopolitical situation and on the minds of people.


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In November 1989, I was a journalist for the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper specializing in German issues. On the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I went to Starya Ploshad in downtown Moscow, the location of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and met an old acquaintance, Nikolai Portugalov.

Nikolai had worked in Bonn as a correspondent at the Russian Embassy in West Germany under Ambassador Valentin Falin. Nikolai was well received by all the high-ranking officials, both in Moscow and in Bonn, and was later invited by Falin himself to join the international department at the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

That night, we discussed the evolving situation - the mass flight of East German citizens through Hungary and Czechoslovakia and the tensions related to the protests in East Germany. Nikolai did not conceal the fact that he was surprised by the developments in the Central Committee.

In his view, given the conditions, even the Soviet tank army stationed in East Germany at the time would not have been able to help the Socialist Unity Party of Germany save the situation even if they had been called in to suppress the mass protests in Leipzig and other East German towns.

It was these protests that, in the end forced, East German leader Erich Honecker to resign.

Actually, the fall of the wall was caused by a number of reasons. Among them was the desire of the divided German people to live in one country, as well as socialism's defeat by capitalism. However, the decisive role was played by the Soviet leadership headed by Mikhail Gorbachev, who chose to stop the confrontation with the West and reform the socialist system.

The prerequisites for the fall of the wall were created in the Soviet Union by Gorbachev and his team, although they had a different goal in mind for the changes they put in place – the improvement of the socialist system. However, the changes, which became known as Perestroika, had an effect not only on the Soviet Union, but on all the socialist countries of Eastern Europe, primarily Poland and Hungary.

The Polish and Hungarian governments introduced more ample and deeper reforms than Gorbachev's team ever dared to, including the creation of a pluralistic society and freedom of movement for its citizens and citizens of other countries.

In East Germany, however, Honecker tried to preserve the existing order. All this led to the end of the arms race and the reduction of tensions on the European continent. And the embodiment of this process was the fall of the wall.

“For his leading role in the peace process, which today is an important element in the international community,” in the words of the Nobel Committee, Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

For Russians, the fall of the wall became not only a symbol of the elimination of military-political blocs and the end of the Cold War, but also a real extension of rights. The great breakthrough was the unimpeded possibility to cross state borders. Soviet citizens were subjected to severe restrictions on their movements, and as a result, the Iron Curtain existed not only on the borders, but also in people's minds. In the 1990s, millions of former Soviet citizens were able to travel abroad and see the capitalist world, with all its merits and faults, with their own eyes.

And yet, in Europe not all the hopes embodied in the fall of the Berlin Wall were fulfilled. Essentially, the European continent entered the new century wrapped in dramatic contradictions. There are many reasons for this.

The unification of Germany was made possible thanks to the good political will demonstrated by the leadership of the Soviet Union. But it turned out that this good will was not reciprocated by Western leaders. Many Kremlin politicians of the era maintain that Moscow agreed to German reunification on the condition that western countries would not expand NATO eastward. In 2009, Gorbachev told the Bild newspaper that, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and others assured him that NATO would not move east.

“The Americans did not keep their promise, whereas the Germans were indifferent. Maybe they were even satisfied with how easily they fooled the Russians. And what did this give us?

Nothing. Only that now Russians no longer believe the West's assurances."

According to statements made by journalists Michael Beschloss and foreign policy analyst Strobe Talbott, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara affirmed that the United States pledged never to expand NATO eastward if Moscow agreed to German reunification.

The West denies this, and indeed there are no corresponding documents from the time to back up either claim.

In April 2014 NATO published an information bulletin that read: "Russian officials claim that U.S. and German officials promised in 1990 that NATO would not expand into Eastern and Central Europe, build military infrastructure near Russia’s borders or permanently deploy troops there. No such pledge was made, and no evidence to back up Russia’s claims has ever been produced. Should such a promise have been made by NATO as such, it would have to have been as a formal, written decision by all NATO allies."

Moscow does not take this declaration seriously and insists that a gentlemen's agreement was broken and that NATO's expansion poses a threat to Russia, especially following NATO's operation in Kosovo and the gradual extension of the West's influence on the countries of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

In 2007, at the 43rd annual Munich Security Conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that NATO's expansion to the East "has nothing to do…with guaranteeing security in Europe." On the contrary, in his words, it reduces the level of mutual trust between countries.

"And we have the legitimate right to ask: against whom is this expansion?" said Putin.

He explained that the expansion of NATO's military infrastructure to Russia’s borders is in no way related to "overcoming world threats” – terrorism first and foremost. Putin reminded the conference attendees that after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the Secretary-General of NATO guaranteed the Soviet Union’s security, saying that the alliance's forces would not be deployed beyond the borders of West Germany. "Where are these guarantees?" asked Putin.

It is up to historians to determine who is right and who is wrong, but today it is obvious that Moscow sees a direct connection between the current tensions in Russia's relations with the West and the processes that followed the fall of the Wall: the Balkan Wars, the operation in Kosovo and NATO's expansion to the East.

The culmination of this is the Ukrainian crisis, which may lead to the appearance of a new dividing wall in Europe - this time on the border between Russia and Ukraine.

Source: Russia Beyond the Headlines - November 9, 2014 Oleg Nikiforov

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). The RWF will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in this article


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